The rain held off as military veterans hoisted the flag to the sounds of a drum and bagpipes.

Thus Brookhaven Memorial Hospital Medical Center on Thursday formally marked completion of the first phase -- the exterior -- of its $60 million Knapp Cardiac Care Center.

The three-story, 60,000- square-foot facility should be opened next fall, according to Stephen Donato, chief development officer for the Patchogue hospital. In the meantime, hospital officials, donors and politicians wanted to stress the importance of having state-of-the-art cardiac care in the community.

"All health care is local," Richard Margulis, Brookhaven's chief executive, told the crowd of about 75.

Currently, the 306-bed hospital has two catheterization labs that have done 2,200 procedures in the past 18 months, he said.

By adding four more catheterization labs and four new operating suites, the hospital would be able to expand care to the 370,000 residents in its service area, Margulis said.

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He also announced the new facility would house a community outreach program for returning vets that would include art therapy and similar treatments to help them reintegrate into the community.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said the facility "is so much about delivering critical needs, but it is also about being able to attract the best talent to this area."

Expanding health care has been the longtime goal of Priscilla Knapp Teich of Bellport, a major donor and a member of the Knapp family for whom the center is named.

"The area needs it so badly," she said.

Gary Welch of Bellport said the hospital had saved his life. The 52-year-old physical therapist said he was close to death after ignoring symptoms of a ruptured appendix for 24 hours.


He was rushed to Brookhaven where he was quickly diagnosed and underwent surgery.

He praised all the staff during his weeklong stay, but choked up recalling one nurse in particular.

"She put her hand on my hand," he said. "She told me everything is going to be OK and that's when I knew it would be all right."